Posts Tagged ‘ego’

What Matters Most?

March 12, 2016

mopbucket  Imagine yourself in a business strategy course your senior year in college. Assume you had a “perfect” 4.0 average grade and were determined to keep it. With the final exam approaching, you’d likely spend many days and nights studying. You would probably memorize formulas or calculations, review notes, attend cram sessions and quiz study partners.

When the teacher hands out the final exam on a single piece of paper, you might be surprised. You might even be perplexed that it’s not far longer. And, what if both sides of that paper were entirely blank? Imagine once everyone has the paper, the professor says, “I’ve taught you everything I can teach you about business in the last few months, but the most important question is this: What’s the name of the person who cleans this building?”

Would you pass or fail the test?

Charles Schwab’s CEO Walt Bettinger tells this story and it packs a memorable punch. It was the only college exam he ever failed. He says he got the B he deserved in that class but learned a lot. Over his years as a student, he had seen the janitor (Dottie) hundreds of times. He’d never taken the time for conversation or to ask her name.

The professor’s assessment sent a powerful message. What matters most says Bettinger, is that you never lose sight of the people who do the real work. His story is a terrific reminder about the perils of thin air. Be sure your altitude doesn’t affect your attitude.

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton , Ed.D. has served as chief strategy officer and managing partner Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. (www.pwkinc.com). She has cross-sector and international experience. Lisa is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. Contact her at: lwyattknowlton@gmail.com

 

 

Brand Repair

November 26, 2014

redbrand

Some organizations have reputation troubles. It’s likely they earned them.

A tarnished brand is something we’ve all seen and don’t want. An advising peer recently shares this case: “We are hand-cuffed in a very important assignment. The client organization is full of ego, fear, dysfunction and paralysis. Regrettably, standard, constructive practices that could inform our tasks were suspended – all because of reputation worries. The senior management knows their brand is in a tattered state.”

A tragic management response is in play: close ranks, worry, more clauses in the standard contract, gag orders, commands, declarations, defense, denial and other control tactics. These choices build fear, disables staff and sends distress signals. It jacks up anxiety. Moreover, these actions can become a negative loop that cause more injuries (inside and out).

A viable alternative ? Carefully identify the wrong values, attitudes and behavior that created the reputation challenges because they inform what must be different going forward. Then, step away from the “war” and demonstrate some vulnerability. Act swiftly and consistently to promote great experiences.

Try this brand ambassador recipe:

(1) Listen. Calmly and patiently hear what the aggrieved party says and what it means.

(2) Apologize. Indicate authentic concern for a failure or inadequate experience.

(3)  Fix it. Take action to remedy the mis-step. While this isn’t always possible, if it is, do it, promptly.

Make these actions automatic for everyone in your organization. From top to bottom, staff should know these three steps. Soon, the volume of good and great recent experiences will replace the stain of history. Concurrently, take big inside actions to attend culture, and make plans along with specific communications that support internal process and structural improvements.

Learning how your organization is understood by others requires gathering both random and routine feedback. This knowledge can serve organization effectiveness. Reputation is earned from the experiences people have inside and outside your building by phone, email, in meetings and other routine interactions. Part of building great brand as well as organization performance is this paradox: take off the armor to build strength.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Constructive Contributions

July 17, 2014

monalisa

The critique or “crit” is a core activity in the Yale School of Art as well as other arts programs nationwide. This process happens in “the pool” if you are a student in the Photography Department and in “the pit” if you are in Painting and Printmaking. These are both spaces below the regular main floor which can exaggerate the emotional sense of an inspection.

Prompt Progress

An art student typically sits for nearly an hour while faculty and other students discuss their work. At the core of this process is intentionally constructive honesty. The objective: help the learner understand the distance between intentions and effect. It is supportive feedback that reframes effort and prompts developmental progress.

The crit provides vital wisdom for several reasons: it offers value from experience the student has not had and it reflects multiple sources. Critiques or feedback can have huge value in advancing our effectiveness if our own fragile egos don’t preclude progress. It works best when we have a learner attitude – regardless of age, stage or title.

Dialogic Review

With senior staff at a huge (multi-billion $) funder, we recently used a similar process. In what we call a “mark up,” models of program plans are the focus of experienced subject matter experts. In a facilitated review, the planned work is presented and considered against a rubric. Participants ask questions and express opinion about assumptions, barriers, facilitators, evidence and the relationship between the selected activities, inputs, and intended results. It is thoughtful and fun. It produces important dialogue as well as vital changes in the material.

Using a “mark up” or “crit” as a regular process can have great yield. Mature professionals welcome multiple perspectives. Then, they sort out what is valid and reliable. Ultimately, what’s produced is far better than the first draft. Constructive comment is a gift in any team or organization. Consider it an important way to adapt and retool your plans.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Who’s In Your Way?

February 9, 2014

shadow

Leading and managing others is a social process. Anyone “out front” faces common obstacles in creating change. To be effective with others, it’s helpful to consider what might be disabling you.

These six questions can identify potential pitfalls. Each requires conscious navigation.

1. What’s that smell?

Understanding the air you and others breathe is essential. You must be able to identify the quality of the “oxygen” around you to influence it. Establishing great culture happens by getting the right folks on board with healthy, functional norms. Root out toxic behavior. When necessary, quickly change out people. Humans have an enormous capacity for delusion, avoidance and denial – especially if self-interest is threatened. Discerning and driving air quality is foundational.

2. Are you a learner?

How you see the world and what informs it is crucial to framing problems as well as their resolution. To ensure perspective, it’s important to actively seeking new knowledge and opinions. A small circle of external advisors can offer extraordinary insights. Being blind to your blind spots is a costly limitation.  Think about your thinking. What could you be missing? Do you know what you don’t know?

3. Are you uncomfortable?

People want familiar and safe. More accurately, we seek what we perceive as comfortable. Regrettably, thinking and behaving in new ways is uncomfortable. To generate forward action, it’s essential to risk and live outside your comfort zone. This pitfall is deep and one of the most common reasons communities and organizations don’t move. Progress requires risk. It must matter more than control. And, that’s not comfortable.

4. Do you have broad shoulders?

Very little important work happens alone.  We need rivals, allies and others involved to secure the best and most progress. How much do you value diverse skills and experiences? Do you invite and engage others in important work? Involve people who think deeply – they are different than those with flip opinions. Be intentional about discovering ways to connect resources and talent that contributes.

5. Is your motive “good”?

Clarifying the underlying motivation for the process and results you seek is important. Because others are quick to judge, knowing your own intention matters a lot. Be sure your ego or “me-victory” isn’t primary. Populist rhetoric won’t sustain important efforts but authentic commitment will.

6. Are you measuring?

Collect data routinely. Simple questions can guide assessment: What’s working? What isn’t? Why? Focus on the right indicators at the right time. Recognize development occurs in stages that may not be linear. Consider the pace, progress, and implications. Then, adapt actions.

Great culture, learning, discomfort, terrific teams, authenticity and active monitoring are big factors in generating change. Take your own inventory today.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Safe & Sound At Work

February 5, 2012

This photo displays the  teamwork that’s essential  to complete a tough job.

Would you risk your life with people at work?

Perhaps more relevant: Is trust or fear most prevalent in your workplace? Are there non-stop “plays” about whose influence will prevail and who you will support?

Safety is a vital issue and key to culture in our organizations. The “safety” I reference has little to do with Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards. It has everything to do with integrity and accountability. About a year ago I read a great interview with Dominic Orr, CEO of Aruba Networks. He talked about one management principle he relies on and its benefits. The principle is intellectual honesty.

Less Politics

Orr has intentionally built a culture which yields a competitive advantage for his organization. This CEO stomps on politics at work. Politics are practically about who gets what. A classic definition is “the acquisition of power.”

Orr considers politics  a distraction that requires great energy to perpetuate and manage. He is very aware of human nature and says politics precludes focus. Without accountability, the challenges of any enterprise can easily be translated to ego that involves defending roles, “territory,” statements or actions.

He insists on (and models) behavior which supports  far more vital concerns. Simply put and publicly stated: “less politics.” Politics, according to Orr, are about ego and defending positions – when humility and exploration that ensures learning serves both relationships and results far better. He “breaks up potential blocks of ice that may become icebergs” in his organization.  Instead, pressure is on clear, crisp expectations and measureable milestones.

Banished Inhibitions

So, what’s his action recipe?  Orr encourages plenty of feedback to preclude any inhibitions about sharing perspective and authentic contributions . He seeks unfiltered and active comment about how he (and others) manage. It is safe for employees to speak up, to contribute and to challenge.

He also freely provides candid, private guidance to employees.  So that staff know energy and attention is on the issue – not the person – emails may include sections that indicate: “start of intellectual honesty moment” and close with “end moment.” Orr tells people to avoid “digging in” on their perspective.

Although individuals are held accountable, far better decisions get made when multiple views get aired and rational criterion applied. An environment that prizes intellectual honesty allows this to happen. It feels safe. It also enables reflection as a routine habit so that both learning and progress occurs. Without the discipline of candor, parallel drama about who’s up and who’s down is fostered and the real work can’t get much attention.

People Trip Sometimes

Recently, the news carried a big story about a cruise ship running aground. “I tripped and fell in the lifeboat,” said the Italian captain who departed a sinking ship prematurely. Obviously, fear and chaos can influence judgment. In this case, the captain probably thought an honest response was too risky. But, his manufactured retort simply garnered more scorn.

All of us are momentarily “stupid” – sometimes. Judgment lapses and in time we feel foolish about a bad choice. The critical issue is how we act next. Disclosure that acknowledges the error, whether caused by emotion, pressure or some other factor, shows humanity. It can endear you to others and build strong bonds.

Seek Mind-Share

Creating a safe culture means there is authentic trust, interdependence and accountability. It is an indicator of a sound organization. The world and our work is so complex we must engage mind-share and commitment at work – not simply time. Leaders who manage well set the example of intellectual honesty. This provides the conditions for people, organizations and communities to soar.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

Leadership for Great Culture

September 14, 2010

When Nelson Mandela and his colleagues secured hard-won positions of leadership he challenged “selfish thinking.” He suggested that “restraint and generosity” guide decisions and the use of power. We all know he offered wisdom and exemplary leadership in a very difficult and complex circumstance. When in power he did not make the mistake of ego: serving self. He was able to transcend this temptation and do the right thing for the common good. He surprised his opposition by rising above the self interests of his constituency to advocate reconciliation over revenge.

 Politics or Performance

Power is about the access to and use of resources. How power “plays” is a key dynamic in any organization. The norms and values that guide power define a leadership culture. In a healthy nonprofit organization, power is used for a specific change mission.  Capable leaders extend influence beyond the organization’s viability. They serve a vulnerable population or serious challenge to quality of life.  Regrettably, this isn’t always the agenda.   Dysfunctional leaders use their power for politics: control and self interest. If you’re willing to look, it is easy is to see whether a leadership culture is focused on politics or performance.

Denial, Avoidance, Blindness

The choice to look away from what exists is denial and avoidance. It happens when a leader  manages relationships and self interest rather than organizational performance.  When someone says, “You can talk to me – but I am not changing my mind.”  Although a  subtle difference, “inattention blindness” is  the  inability to see what’s right in front of us.  It happens when  the desperate circumstances of many become so common they are ignored. It happens when the leadership culture is all politics. When there is no rudder, no conscience, no accountability and lots of ego —anything  goes.

 I believe great leaders step past denial, avoidance, blindness. They face into the wind and are  accountable. They agree with Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education, who recently said: “The truth is always hard to swallow, but it can only make us better, stronger, and smarter. That’s what accountability is all about — facing the truth and taking responsibility.”

 Power  as a Tool

Power  that focuses on domination  is oppressive in many ways. It can generate then perpetuate hardships and injustice.  It often  occurs by individuals and groups through gender, age, or racial affiliation. Far too often it occurs by people in jobs whose purpose is to serve. While some  may not find the courage to name it, many people are  offended and perplexed by the examples  these leaders offer. It can severely hamper organization performance. 

When Mandela assumed a recognized position, he  walked past  ego and challenged others about theirs.  He chose  mission over self-interest and competence over cronies.  His altitude didn’t influence his attitude or behavior. His example begs a  question: What surprise can you offer ?

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also a W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. For more information, see : www.pwkinc.com


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